- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (March 20, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596910100
- ISBN-13: 978-1596910102
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,284,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Virgin: The Untouched History 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. By any material reckoning, virginity does not exist," writes Blank in this informative, funny and provocative analysis of one of the most elusive—and prized—qualities of human sexuality. Blank, an independent scholar, has pieced together a history of how humans have constructed the idea of virginity (almost always female and heterosexual) and engineered its uses to suit cultural and political forces. Blank has no shortage of fascinating facts: since Western virginity was symbolized by the color white, missionaries viewed nonwhite peoples as sexually immoral; late medieval and Renaissance moralists thought they could detect whether a woman was a virgin by examining her urine ("a virgin's was clear, sparkling, and thin"). Blank also has a pleasing, highly readable style that allows her to convey large amounts of information with wit and agility. But she becomes most animated, and political, when she probes contemporary ideas about virginity. Taking on a range of questions—why is virginity considered sexy? how does the idea of virginity fuel violence against women?—she makes the case that contemporary culture is as obsessed with, and benighted about, virginity, as those of the past. Thoroughly researched, carefully argued and written with a sly sense of humor, this is a bright addition to the popular literature of women's and cultural studies. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Blank's revealing history of virginity begins with discoveries related to women's bodies over time, then quickly moves on to a fascinating analysis of the roles economics, religion, and urbanization have played in the changing attitudes toward virginity. From the Roman Empire to the Jazz Age and beyond, with appearances by Jesus, Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, and Alfred Kinsey, this is a rich history indeed. Some common threads favored by Blank include virginity as commodity (trading virgin daughters for land) and the ideology of virginity (Mary's importance in Catholicism). Offering compelling insights, Blank is upfront about telling a female history, although one wishes she had broadened her view as she moved into the present, particularly when she spends time on virginity in popular culture today. This is also strictly a Western history, with modern-day "honor killings" not mentioned until the epilogue. And what of depictions of virginity in, say, Bollywood? Perhaps Blank's next treatise will provide a needed further look at this complex and significant topic. Annie Tully
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Just defining what a virgin is is a tough exercise. And it isn't just a philosophical or verbal one: "It is an exercise in controlling how people behave, feel, and think, and in some cases, whether they live or die." The confusion is shown by Augustine, who said that if a virgin resisted rape, then she was still a virgin after rape. The defining emphasis on a potentially procreative act, rather than any other canoodling, isn't because of any inherent biological cause, but seems to be due to social factors, like a father's valuing his daughter's virginity as a bargaining chip in matrimonial negotiations No other animal besides ourselves seems to recognize or value a condition of virginity. Sometimes the explanation given is that humans are the only animals with hymens, but this is not true; lots of mammals have them, and they have hymens that are useful in, say, sealing out water, or only opening up when the female is in estrus. No animal besides ourselves pays the hymen any attention, and this is despite that the human hymen serves no function. There is no accurate test for virginity, although many have been proposed, from the supposedly physiological to the downright superstitious. "The simple fact is that short of catching someone in the act of sex, virginity can be neither proven nor disproven. We cannot prove it today, nor have we ever been able to." Just to show how patriarchal is the interest in such tests, there is always one form of evidence that is universally considered inadmissible in the matter: the woman's own verbal testimony.
"Of all the countries of the developed world," writes Blank, "the United States is the only one that has to date created a federal agenda having specifically to do with the virginity of its citizens." Our federal government is attempting to establish virginity as the only proper sexual status for its never-married citizens. That young people should abstain from sex is the basis of millions of dollars of federal programs; that they do not abstain, and never have, is obvious but makes no difference to those with a pro-virginity agenda. Usually such agendas come from religious groups. Funding, for instance, goes to a program called Free Teens USA, which is run by people with strong ties to the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The church maintains that any sexual activity outside of marriage is an abomination, and Reverend Moon has advocated that a woman who is threatened with rape ought to kill herself rather than undergo extramarital coitus. Less extreme religious groups may advocate virginity, but the results are poor. Abstinence programs do not reliably lower risky sexual behavior. When the Centers for Disease Control did research into programs that were supposed to reduce such behavior, none of the programs that were successful were centered on abstinence. (Since then, the CDC has discontinued such research and removed the results from its website, and its recommendations for contraception have been replaced by statements of official support for abstinence and abstinence only.) Blank's book is not a polemic, but her enlightening historical review of western attitudes to virginity would be good reading for anyone making governmental policy about our virgins. It is also a call to remember the long confusion of historical definitions and attitudes, and that "losing one's virginity" is probably not one physical, emotional, or psychological event, but a process of sexual development that is different for everyone and ought not be oversimplified as one coital act.